What is Self-Regulation? Dr. Stuart Shanker Breaks It Down
About Dr. Stuart Shanker
Dr. Stuart Shanker (D.Phil) is a Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Psychology, the Founder & Visionary of The MEHRIT Centre, Ltd., and Self-Reg Global Inc. One of his many books, Calm, Alert and Learning: Classroom Strategies for Self-Regulation (2012), is a top-selling educational publication in Canada. Self-Reg: How to Help Your Child (and You) Break the Stress Cycle and Successfully Engage With Life (2016), has garnered enthusiastic reviews and media attention throughout North America and has also been published in the United Kingdom, the United States, Poland, Germany, China, South Korea, Japan, the Netherlands, Georgia and the Czech Republic. His latest books are Self-Reg Schools: A Handbook for Educators (2019) and Reframed: Self-Reg for a Just Society (2020)
Things you’ll learn from this episode
- How the explosion of stress-related problems in recent years among children has augmented the need for additional self-reg resources for parents and educators
- How the brain controls the levels of stress and simple strategies that can be used to calm the nervous system response
- Why self-reg practices for parents and teachers other adults begin with learning how to regulate ourselves
- The difference between misbehavior and stress behavior
- How self-regulation mechanisms evolve as we get older
- The distinction between self-control and self-regulation and the five steps to self-regulation
Resources mentioned for what is self-regulation
- Self-Reg: How to Help Your Child (and You) Break the Stress Cycle and Successfully Engage with Life by Dr. Stuart Shanker
- Reframed: Self-Reg for a Just Society by Dr. Stuart Shanker
- Self-Reg Schools: A Handbook for Educators by Dr. Stuart Shanker and Dr. Susan Hopkins
- A “Masterclass” in Executive Functioning with Seth Perler, Part 1 (podcast episode)
- A “Masterclass” in Executive Functioning with Seth Perler, Part 2 (podcast episode)
- A Conversation with Executive Functioning Coach Seth Perler (original podcast episode)
- Seth Perler Talks to Asher About Resistance (podcast episode)
- Seth Perler on Helping Kids Work Through Resistance, Part 2 for Parents (podcast episode)
- A Conversation Between Debbie Reber and Seth Perler for Teachers and School Administrators (podcast episode)
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Debbie Reber 00:00
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Stuart Shanker 00:23
But stress behavior is caused it is not chosen, and by punishing a child for stress behavior. It is incredible how much harm you are doing.
Debbie Reber 00:38
Welcome to tilt parenting, a podcast featuring interviews and conversations aimed at inspiring informing and supporting parents raising differently wired kids. I’m your host, Debbie Reber, and welcome to the Fall 2022 season of the podcast. I’m so excited to kick things off with a really just fantastic interview. For the first time on this show. I’m talking with Dr. Stuart Shanker, who I first learned about through my friend Seth Perler, as Stuart has been part of the TEFOS Summit in the years past. I love Stewart’s message and recently devoured his book Self-Reg: How to Help Your Child and You Break the Stress Cycle and Successfully Engage with Life. And so I wanted to talk with Stuart to go deeper into that book. In this episode, we talk about the ways in which the brain controls the levels of stress, the difference between self regulation and self control and what stress behavior looks like versus misbehaving. Stuart also walks us through his five steps to self reg and talks about the power of us as parents and caregivers and educators doing our own self regulation work so we can support the kids around us. Here’s a little bit more about my guest. Dr. Stuart Shanker is a distinguished research professor emeritus of philosophy and psychology, the founder and visionary of the Mehrit center, and Self-Reg Global Inc. His book Calm, Alert, and Learning: Classroom Strategies for Self-Regulation, which came out in 2012 is a top selling educational publication in Canada. He’s also the author of the book we’re talking about today, Self-Reg, as well as Self-Reg Schools: A Handbook for Educators, and his newest book, Re-framed: Self-Reg for a Just Society. This is a great conversation, I hope you get a lot out of it. Before I get to that, I just want to once again welcome you to this fall season. I have a great lineup for you, including episodes on some topics we haven’t covered extensively before on this show, like rejection sensitive dysphoria, polyvagal theory, PDA, freeing your child from negative thinking and much more, and playback Fridays will be back starting this Friday too. And that’s where I dive back into the archives and rerelease a popular episode from the first few years of the show. So don’t forget to subscribe to Tilt Parenting wherever you listen to podcast so you don’t miss any of these episodes. Lastly, in addition to planning for and producing this upcoming season of the podcast, I’ve been busy on some other projects over the past few months. One of these is that I’ve updated my free 7-Day Differently Wired Challenge. So if you’re newer to Tilt Parenting, and you haven’t done this yet, I invite you to join nearly 4000 other parents and caregivers and take the Challenge. When you sign up, you’ll get a super short video from me every day for seven days, highlighting one practical, actionable thing you can start doing right away to make a real change in the way you think, feel and act in relation to your child. You’ll also get a mini downloadable workbook to keep track of your progress. And again, it’s free to sign up for the 7-Day Differently Wired Challenge, just visit tiltparenting.com/sevenday. Thank you so much. Thanks for being here. Thanks for listening. And now here is my conversation with Stuart.
Debbie Reber 04:12
Hey, Stuart, welcome to the podcast. Thank you very much every day like this is an overdue conversation. I was saying before we hit record that I probably first heard you speak through Seth Perler, who is a good friend. He’s been on the show a lot talking about executive function. And so I’ve always really resonated with your message. I’d love it if you could, as a way to get into this. Just take a few minutes and introduce yourself and your work to us in your own words.
Stuart Shanker 04:41
Well, I ran a a very unusual kind of clinic, York University. And in this clinic, we had therapy on one side and neuroscience lab on the other. And what we would do is essentially we were working with kids. It’s I love your expression, differently wired, kids. That’s what we were, I’ve got to have my own. And I wanted to understand them. And so we would do therapy, and then have a look and see inside the brain, what was going on? What was working, what wasn’t working? And how could we tell? How can we tell if something was actually helping the kid or not. So we ran that for seven years. And then the next part of the mandate was, we had to this is a very expensive project, it was a $10 million project. And the next part was, we had to make what we had learned, accessible, and usable for all parents and all educators. So we set up an organization called the merit center. And let me encourage all of your listeners to go on our website, because there’s all kinds of stuff you can get for free itself, Dash reg.ca. And our expectation, we never advertised anything, we were simply doing this as a service. But it exploded on us, as Seth can attest, right now, we are literally all over the globe. And it’s because of a couple of reasons. Can I explain those, I won’t just talk about the differently wired kid, but all kids and we are seeing today an explosion, a literal explosion of stress related problems. These might be physical, they might be mental health. And, and it’s obviously due to and it’s been much harder on our own kids. So it’s obviously due to the very high stress levels that all of society is experiencing. But it’s also due to a couple of other factors. One of them is what we call maladaptive ways of handling your stress, maladaptive self regulation. And the other one is not having enough of the experiences or the neuro chemicals that turn off stress that turn off the stress response. So I think the reason why the marriage Center has grown the way it has, is simply the case that there is an enormous need right now. And it’s not just for kids, or their parents, but it’s for educators, or for anyone who woke up this morning and made the mistake of reading the day’s news.
Debbie Reber 07:32
Yeah, as I was reading your book, I was thinking, wow, so much has happened in the years since you wrote your book. And the book, I’m talking about listeners, it’s Self-Reg: How to Help Your Child and You Break the Stress Cycle and Successfully Engage with Life. And of course, I’m reading it now in 2020, thinking like, oh, my gosh, all of these challenges are exacerbated now in the stress levels of kids, and just wondering if there’s anything you can speak to with regards to this unique time we find ourselves in?
Stuart Shanker 08:03
Well, it’s a scary time, because we’re not just seeing an increase in, let’s say, kids that are struggling with anxiety, we’re seeing an increase in actual anxiety disorders. In fact, they’ve doubled. Our latest data shows that about 1/3 of all teens, adolescents from I think 14 to 23 have an anxiety disorder. These are crazy numbers. And when we talk about an anxiety disorder, what we’re really talking about is a kid who is relying, let’s say on avoidance, can’t go to school, can’t go to work, can’t deal with life, can’t can’t see their friends, they are an and obviously quite miserable. And, you know, I could go down through the list of I could talk about various kinds of issues that we’re seeing that are stress related disorders, it could be eating disorder, it could be social. But the point is, okay, we see this happening, and we know why we can pretty much you know, you and I could spend half an hour now talking about what the stresses are. But what parents want to know and what educators want to know is what can I do? How can I change this child’s trajectory? Now, I’ll just mention one thing I said before our clinic was for kids, mostly kids on the spectrum. And what we were trying to do was shift them from maladaptive ways of dealing with stress to healthy ways. And so for example, with a kid on the spectrum, one of the most typical behaviors they demonstrate, not universal, is what’s called gaze aversion. Where they won’t look at where they sort of blocked the interaction with their caregiver, and I’m talking about little guys, but gaze aversion is really a way of handling stress. There’s an awful lot of stress for a young child interacting with an adult, even if it’s their caregiver. And that stress that comes off the eyes, we can talk later if you’d like about what stress is. But the point is gaze aversion is maladaptive. And it’s maladaptive for all kinds of reasons. The child needs those interactions to learn language, to learn how to deal with their own stress. But they also need those interactions. Because nature designed us with a system to turn off stress we have in our limbic system, and I promised myself I wouldn’t talk too much brain. But deep inside our brain, right in the middle, almost, there’s a little structure that we think of as the master control system, it’s called the hypothalamus. And in that there’s a group of neurons called the paraventricular nucleus, PVN.
Stuart Shanker 11:06
And it has, I’m sorry, for I know, I promise, but this is kind of cool. It has these neurons in it to deal with stress. A stress for scientists is anything that causes us to burn energy, to keep our systems running smoothly. So these neurons are triggered by stress, and they set a chain of reactions that end up tapping into the body’s energy. That’s why we have cortisol, it’s to get the energy, but in that same nucleus, in that same little tiny part of the brain. There’s another set of neurons that trigger oxy toasts. And Debbie’s nodding her head we know what oxytocin is. One of its most important functions, is oxytocin turns off stress, turns off the CRF, the neurons that create this chain. So okay, we’ve got these two different systems inside this little mechanism. We know what turns on the stress response, that’s simple, that stress, what turns off for the young child, what turns on, sorry, what turns on the oxytocin, which turns off the stress? And the answer is pretty much Touch, touch, being caressed. We have little receptors in our skin, oxytocin receptors. And when we’re touched, soothed, cuddled, even even a caregivers gentle voice, which is also a form of touch, it’s caressing the eardrum, all of these turn on the neurons, the oxytocin neurons that restore balance that turn off the stress response, okay? Now you can begin to see why for a kid on the spectrum. It’s pretty maladaptive, to go up to block yourself, from your caregiver because of the stress. Because what you’re doing is you’re depriving yourself of what nature designed, you’re depriving yourself of oxytocin, the stress levels are staying very high in you. So what we did in our clinic was, okay, we’ve got to figure out why is this kid avoiding, say, interacting with mum and dad or whoever? What are the stresses? How can we reduce those stresses, so that the child naturally wants to engage with us, wants to look at us, be with us. And that’s what we did. And that’s what we reported on, we broke papers on it. But basically, what it means is that by getting that child to shift from a maladaptive way of dealing with their stress, namely shutting down to an adaptive way, namely being with us, we were changing the child’s trajectory. This child now could seek out out their parents when they were overstressed. And the big lesson that we learned from all this is it is no different for any kid for any teenager for any young adult, if they are shutting down, avoiding us, when they are overstressed because of COVID because of global warming because of political insanity, when they are shutting down the latest thing, the attack on gender dysphoria, when they shut down, shrinking to themselves, they are depriving themselves of oxytocin. The parents ask us all the time, what’s the healthiest thing for my kid to do when they’re overstressed? The answer is come to you. The answer is come for a hug. Don’t offer it, don’t impose it. And what we learned is our little guys as young As three could do this. And now I have a 20 year old hulking son who’s somewhere in the background. And he has learned very well, he’s on the spectrum. And you learn very well that when life’s a little bit too much for him, what he really needs is just a gentle voice, and maybe some scratching on his arm. He’s ever since ever since he was a baby, he likes to be scratched. But this is a huge lesson. And it’s a huge lesson not just for our children, but for our entire society. Okay, so suppose now let’s take as an example, I’m trying to talk with, you know, Uncle Joe, who is, you know, raving and ranting and ruining Thanksgiving, and, you know, whatever, you pick your political topic. And so I’m listening to all this. And let’s suppose that I’m like, Debbie, Debbie, you can see that Debbie is very grounded. So you think Well, what I gotta do is I gotta show Uncle Joe that what he’s saying is nuts. It’s irrational, which it is, it’s the red brain, the limbic system that’s going off. But it’s no different with a teenager, a teenager who is shouting, or a child. And so, you know, if I’m a parent of a little guy, who’s having, let’s say, a temper tantrum, well, the last thing I’m going to do to my two year old to say, you know, son, this is quite irrational. And you need to understand that there are consequences, whatever, okay, so we assume the two year old, we know it. But the reality is that when my teenager does it, he has regressed to the level of a two year old. And what he needs is to talk about a very complicated system in the brain, he needs the arousal, the hyper arousal, the lower parts of his brain to be soothed. He literally doesn’t hear, he doesn’t process what I’m saying, Uncle Joe doesn’t process if he’s hyper aroused. So what Uncle Joe really needs from me, if, if we’re gonna have a nice Thanksgiving, is he needs the same thing as my two year old, he needs soft eyes and a soft voice, he actually needs a hug. He is overstressed. Our entire society is overstressed. That’s why we’re melting down. So this is a hugely important lesson. Everything I’m talking about now, this is the result of a revolution in neuroscience, things that we’ve discovered over the last 20 years, it’s hugely important for how we raise our children. My own children suffered endlessly from adults who didn’t understand that they were wired differently. But now it’s an entire society that desperately needs this kind of healthy modes of self regulation.
Debbie Reber 18:02
Yeah, I so appreciate that. And as I was reading your book, too, this happens a lot in my work, I guess it’s an occupational hazard as I get to have these incredible conversations about the latest neuroscience and what we know about the brain and the nervous system and supporting our kids. I wish I could have a do over, right. And I think about how differently I would have shown up as a parent had I had some of these tools. So I’m really grateful to be able to share them with parents who are earlier on in their journey. You share a story in your book self Reg, in the opening about an interaction with a teacher who responded to a kid who was dysregulated? And how one thing kind of shifted her thinking in an instant. Really, is that kind of the bigger goal? And do you find that I imagine you work with teachers in training? Like, are people open to this new way of thinking about regulation?
Stuart Shanker 18:55
I mentioned at the outset that our organization has spread right across the country, and it’s primarily been through schools. And we’ve never ever approached the school and said to them, would you like to do this? It’s entirely we decided from the beginning it would be just by word of mouth. And so we do all kinds of courses for educators. And the interesting question that we are confronted with over and over is, you know, well, why should I do this? Why do I want to learn this? And, you know, my own feelings as a parent, you know, when I see how my children suffer, I don’t want any kid to suffer ever again. But the point that we where we start with educators is the emphasis and self regulation is on self. And what we mean by that is, this is a tough job. It’s a very high stress as we see throughout the US. As teachers now quiet quitting, it’s a very, very demanding job. Especially in times like this, when you’ve got, let’s say, 30 kids, and a large number of them are dysregulated, a large number of them, or overstressed and don’t know what to do about it. And so what we find as an educator, is our own stress is through the roof. So every single institute that we run, the very first step for educators, the very first day is always on your self reg needs. Now, there’s a couple of reasons why we have to do this. And it applies to parents as much as two educators, okay? It’s not simply that you have to, you have to be aware of your own stress. And you have to be aware that you have to reframe it’s called your own behavior. But there’s a real problem when you’re working with kids, and that is that kids, especially when they’re overstressed. Don’t listen to your words. They listen to your limbic system was only partly joking before because if you look at Debbie carefully, right now, there’s a slight smile. There’s a big smile. Now, the face is telling us through the face, she’s calm, now she’s grounded now. And that’s what her face is expressing. That’s what the child hears. That’s what the child processes. So if you’re calm, it comes through your facial expression, it comes through your eye gaze that comes through, it’s called leakage, and it leaks out through your nonverbal modes of communication. That’s all the kid is hearing. If you’re agitated, that’s what the kid, here’s. So there’s a story in the book that Debbie just mentioned about this teenage girl, and she was going through every single night, but she’s 13. And she’s having a fight every single night with her mom, and it would last for a couple of hours. And the child was quite irrational. You know, there’s an awful lot of stresses that are going on, and a 13 year old. And Mum was trying to explain why all these fears were irrational is a wonderful kid. And that just led to shouting and door slamming and nothing. And so what the therapist said to mom, when you’re sitting around a group table was the next time this happens. You have to, you have to ground yourself, you have to calm yourself, you have to, it’s only if you’re calm, that the child is going to pick up on that calmness and not on your agitation. So sure enough, a couple of days later, the kid asked for a pink hoodie, like all the other girls and mom came home with a gray hoodie. They were out of pink hoodies. And so they had a rip roaring fight.I won’t repeat what mum called the kid but she thought she was an ungracious, ungrateful little such and such because mom had taken off her lunch hour. But she said to herself, the doctors, the therapist said that I am supposed to go out into the hall, do some deep breathing and not say anything. So she did. And then she came back into the room, and the kid was sitting on the bed. And I won’t go into all the details. But the kid had walked had broken down what I was talking about before that connection between child and parent, it’s called an inter brain connection. And so we want to restore that somehow. And the best way we can do it is through physical touch. But when a kid is overwrought, they don’t want to be touched. So you have to get permission. Anyways, she went through some steps that we explained and got permission to scratch the child. And the child laid down. At this point, nobody’s saying anything. And Mum is gently soothing the stroking the child’s arm. And then after just 15 minutes, the kid says I have to go to sleep. Now. These were fights that we’re going because what’s happened is we’ve turned she’s turned off the alarm system. And as mom is walking out the doors, turns off the light. She’s walking out the door, she hears a little voice say I love you, Mommy. Now that’s very important, because what it means is that this child has in fact regressed to infancy. And what she’s now experienced and hasn’t experienced in a long time, is the security that her caregivers gave her when she was an infant. The security of being held loved and protected. And what this does is it does turn off the alarm system. It does turn off the stress response something called the HPA pathway. Mum thinking about all this and she’s this I did that no matter what. The next day she’s going to take her kid after she leaves early and take her kid to the adult store to find the pink hoodie. And the next morning, the child came down to breakfast smiling, wearing the gray hoodie. So it wasn’t about the hoodie. And what it was about was the child was overwhelmed by social stress, which is very hard on kids today, and couldn’t deal with it on her own, couldn’t ask for help. Didn’t know what kind of help she needed. The help she needed was by touching her child, what mum was doing was triggering the oxytocin that turned off the stress so that the child could sleep, the first thing she’d had in quite a long time decently. And that’s, there’s a lesson in there for, you know, every parent, but there’s also a lesson for every educator, because you can do the same. You can have that same effect with your voice, the voice turns off, you know, not the screaming voice. The gentle, quiet voice turns off with the same neurochemical reaction that turns off the stress response. And you can I’ve seen teachers do it, you can they’ve walked in, they’ve got a class that’s quite dysregulated. This isn’t the case of being a therapist. This is a case of being that calming presence, and then sharing your calm and turning off. Now what you also have to do as an educator, is you’ve got to learn this stuff. And the most important thing they’ve got to learn and the most important thing that parents have to learn is a huge difference between misbehavior and stress be misbehavior, misbehavior is intentional misbehavior is something that the kid has done on purpose stress behavior is caused both of my children, both boys, were constantly getting in trouble on the grounds that they were misbehaving. But in fact, they were stressed behaviors caused, like my older son, very, very sensitive to noise and odors. My younger son is very, very sensitive to distractions, and the behaviors that they were punished for and constantly being told that you have to choose, you have to choose and suffer the consequences if you make the wrong choice. But stress behavior is caused, it is not chosen. And by punishing a child for stress behavior. It is incredible how much harm you are doing. And I am still having to undo the harm that was done to both kids now 20 They’re not 20 and 18.
Debbie Reber 27:49
Yeah, I mean, I don’t remember the exact circumstance. But there was a story in the book that it really mirrored a trajectory or a situation that happened with my child in first grade. You know, one thing happened at school, and it led to this and then refusing to wear the coat at recess and then getting in trouble. And then, you know, just kind of spirals. Yeah, I think so many listeners relate to, my child’s 18. I also feel like we’re still dealing with what happened or some of those moments or entire years, perhaps where they are kids who get the message that there’s something wrong with you, you’re, you’re a bad kid…
Stuart Shanker 28:26
And they internalize it.
Debbie Reber 28:27
They internalize it. And it’s not something that can easily be addressed, unfortunately. And now, a quick break for a word from our sponsor. Is your family school, you’re not going as you’d hoped, does your student go unseen or get underserved in a big classroom? Well, I’ve got great news for you. Fusion Academy is a private, middle and high school with one on one classrooms customized to your students pace academically, socially and emotionally. Fusion has more than 80 campuses across the US along with their virtual campus fusion global Academy, which serves students online worldwide. My team attends fusion and it has truly been a game changer for our whole family in the best possible way. Learn more and experience the world’s most personalized school with the free trial session at Fusion academy.com/tilt. And now back to the show. I wanted to ask you about this distinction between self control and self regulation. I thought that was so interesting, too, because I do think again, in homes, in many families, and in school systems, there is this priority on controlling yourself. You need to learn how to control yourself, and you make it very clear that controlling yourself is not the goal and can actually be counterproductive if that’s what we’re working on trying to do especially with kids who have distraction issues and all kinds of things going on so can You talk about the distinction between those two things.
Stuart Shanker 30:03
I was educated at Oxford. And at Oxford, I worked on self regulation. And so I was looking at self regulation, as it developed in the early 20th century by American physiologists and by headsail, yeah. And they were really looking at self regulating mechanisms. And that’s a very important point, I gave you an example, just now there’s a self regulating mechanism between the stress response and oxytocin. Babies are born self regulating. So how does a baby self regulate? Well, they fall asleep. If the stress is too great, they can reduce the stress. Remember I mentioned a while ago, stress is anything that requires us to burn energy to stay in balance. So for a baby, the single biggest stress is probably light, they’ve come from a dark environment. And light is a stress. It’s a, you know, the photons are hitting the eyes hitting the nervous system, and you have to stay regulated. And when stress gets too much for a baby, I was just dealing with this yesterday, someone taking their little baby to a bistro, baby is three weeks old. And she said to me that the baby just falls asleep instantly when they go to the bistro. So it’s wonderful to get her to sleep. And in fact, what you’re doing is over-stressing the three week old, and she’s self regulating, but it’s not a very good mechanism. And so we have, we’re born with self regulating mechanisms. But for a kid that really aren’t very good. Like if the kid is cold, cold temperatures, a stress, and the kid can be lying right beside her blanket the baby, but doesn’t isn’t able to pull the blanket up over her. So we do it for her.
Stuart Shanker 31:58
And then as the child gets older, they learn better and better ways of consciously self regulating, then that means of recognizing when they’re overstressed and learning how to handle that stress in a way that reduces the stress and doesn’t create more stress. In fact, I’ll just mention as an aside, the big crisis that we’re seeing right now is if you want, we can talk about it later, but a generation that is doing the wrong things to suffering. Now, what happens when a child self regulates in a healthy way is they stop those stress behaviors in their tracks, by reducing the stress those behaviors and it could be behaviors, that could be things like oppositional behavior, it could be something in their mood, it could be their poor attention, what we’re doing is, instead of trying to repress or inhibit the impulse, the impulse to hit the impulse to argue, instead, what we’re doing is removing the impulse, figuring out where that impulse is coming from the impulse comes from overstress. And so what we’re doing is teaching the child to recognize when they’re getting overstressed so that they can reduce the stresses on their own, they can self-regulate in a way where they don’t have these impulses. I’ve worked very hard teaching both of my kids how to do this. And as you said a second ago, there’s a ways to go. self regulation is we get better and better at this as we go along as we learn. As we learn to recognize the signs of when we are overstressed. Yeah, I just want to do one tiny bit of science. I said a second ago that stress is anything that requires us to burn energy to stay in balance. Okay, so cold weather is a stress for a kid on the spectrum, noises, smells can be a stress. Crowds can be a stress. And so what’s happening. If a child is overstressed and this is any child, all of our kids, when they’re overstressed, what that means is they have to burn all this energy in order to keep going. That’s the definition of stress. It’s something that we burn energy in order to deal with the stress. So they go into energy deficit, their tank is empty. And what’s happening today is we’ve got a generation of kids now with an empty tank because of all the stress and instead of refilling the tank that go for dopamine, so there’s all kinds of ways of getting a dopamine fix. And what dopamine does, is it gives you what we call psychic energy, it gives you a burst of energy, you go after something. And so you can get it from a video game or social media, you can get it from food, everything is being tailored now to trigger dopamine in children. Now, I’ll just tell you very, very quickly about probably the greatest experiment ever done in self regulation. It was done by Milner and Olds in 1954. What they did was they gave rats, two feeding stations, one where they could get dopamine and right beside it, one where they could get food and water.
Stuart Shanker 35:50
And what they found was that the rats were stuck on the dopamine to the point where they wouldn’t go right beside it with food and water, they would ignore the food and water, keep on hitting the dopamine trigger and die from a lack of food and water is an extraordinary discovery. And so what’s happening is our kids are keeping themselves going with a dopamine fix. So what we need when we work on self regulation is that the program we run is called self reg. And it’s five steps to lead to something called restoration. That’s the fifth step. And restoration. What you’re restoring is energy. What you’re restoring are your human connections, empathy, compassion, what you’re restoring is your positive mood. But you can’t get there because you say, well, I need to restore, you have to go through steps. And the five steps are first you’re going to reframe behavior is this stress behaviors that misbehave. Second, you’re going to figure out what the stresses are. There are so many stresses that are not obvious in kids’ lives today. So you become a stress detective. And there’s a lot about that in the book that W mentioned the 2016 book, then we’re going to start to reduce stress. And that might be if you’re a kid on the spectrum, okay, don’t go to the crowded place. I find that when I am tired, the idea of going to our crowded restaurant is unbelievably aversive. However, when I feel really good, it’s kind of energizing, it gives you a buzz. So being in touch with yourself number four, step four is getting to calm. By calm what we mean is you have to be calm, not quiet. Calm refers to what’s happening in your brain, as well as in your body. We want the attention to relax. We want the brainwaves to slow down. It’s very hard for kids to do this on their own. The one piece of parenting that never works is telling a kid who is agitated to calm down.
Debbie Reber 38:03
I remember and I wrote about this in my book moment where I demanded that my child do coping strategies like demanded, you should do your coping strategies. That didn’t not work out very well.
Stuart Shanker 38:16
Yeah, but that’s because we’re overstressed here, right? And, and so it’s a way it’s a maladaptive way of self regulating ourselves. And then the fifth step is restoration, physiological personhood. But the point is, you can’t get to, you can’t get to restoration unless you go through the first four steps. And there’s all different kinds of ways of getting through. But none of them are coping strategies. So we don’t want the kid to cope with stress. We want the kid to learn how to thrive from stress to benefit from stress by recognizing when they’re overstressed and then having constructive ways of dealing with it. Okay, so let me tell you what we’ve learned. So I’ve seen an awful lot of kids, I’ve seen 1000s and 1000s of kids. And in all the kids I’ve seen, I’ve never once seen a bad kid. And that’s because there isn’t such a thing. They’re just a kid, the stuff that Seth has been talking about on your podcast, that part of their brains not going to match rate until around the age of 24. So we’re talking about a kid whose executive functions are just starting, or the systems that support them. Unfortunately, they start to tell stories to themselves, they can convince themselves convince themselves that they’re a tough guy or convinced themselves that they’re useless or, and so, what we want to do is we want to if we can reframe, if we can see that this is just stress behavior, and figure out what the stresses are in this child’s life and what we can do, then what we find is by seeing This child differently we see a different kid. And we can now, I love the expression. And in Spanish, I think I meant the bell at the event that we can change slowly step by step, we can change this col child’s trajectory, help them tell a new story form a new persona, one where they thrive. And you know, at the end of the day, I honestly don’t give a kid is differently wired or not, it means nothing to me. It’s a kid. It’s a kid with wonderful gifts. And I want them to discover what their gifts are that bring them joy. And in the process, bring me joy. And we can do this. And we can do this for every single child. That’s what we do.
Debbie Reber 40:48
Yeah, I love that so much you’ve shared so much today, like I wanted to talk about that difference between quiet and calm, you touched upon that. And I love that you brought it back to this idea of helping them change their stories, because we know a lot of these kids are half glass, half empty humans, there’s a lot of inner negative self talk going on, I guess I would love to just leave listeners to with thoughts from you about kind of keeping their eye on the bigger thing because I think we have our own baggage right that we bring in to this or the stories that we tell ourselves about our kids negativity or their timeline, their trajectory. And we may lose hope that it’s possible to help them shift that.
Stuart Shanker 41:29
So I will end with a little story. I’m just doing work in the far far north of Canada, in a place called Yellowknife. And I went there at the end of January one year and it and the pilot came on the plane and said bundle up, folks. It’s a balmy minus 42 out there. If you don’t know what that means. It’s very cool. So they had to change my venue several times, because so many people wanted to come. And so I ended up taking me to a theater and the theater is standing room only. And so you know, I talk about all this stuff. And at the very end, I stopped and I said, you know, I’m curious. It’s really, really cold. What do you all do in here, and there’s this voice from the upper balcony and he shouts down, it’s because you give us hope. And that was a life changer for me. Because I realized how many people are going onto your website, reading your book, listening to your podcast, desperately needing and in search of hope. And the message here is there has been a revolution in neuroscience. And we want them now, to see that this hope is more than just a dream, that that we actually could do this. Now. I’m not at the point where I can say, you know, it’s never easy. That’s not the message. But the message is we can always change your child’s trajectory, we can always give them a meaningful life and a life full of meaning.
Debbie Reber 43:07
I love that. Thank you. Thank you so much. What a great note to end this on. And listeners, I’m going to have a pretty extensive show notes page for this episode. And I’ll have links to Stewart’s book, the one we talked about today, again, was self Reg, how to help your child and you break the stress cycle and successfully engaged with life. And you also have a book that came out more recently, which I have not read yet, but it’s on my queue. It’s called Reframed: Self Reg for a Just Society. So I have a feeling that’s a more of a global message and why this work isn’t just about our kids, but it’s part of what we’re doing here on this planet together. So excited to check that out. So thank you so much for just what you do in the world and for the revolution that you are a part of and for sharing with us today.
Stuart Shanker 43:54
I will say to you, Debbie, keep it up. I love your website. I love your book.
Debbie Reber 44:00
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